Listening to all the chatter about the selections made by Team USA General Manager David Poile I have to say its both a sign of that feeling of entitlement by some as well as the harsh reality that trasparency can provide. I'm a coach in multiple sports at the High School level and talent evaluation is part of what we do. Especially in a team sport you have lots of conversations about your players abilities where you analyze strengths and weaknesses. The discussion is often not flattering, but its not all negative either. As a coach you are trying to put your best lineup together and make decisions with the team's ultimate success in mind. Much has been made about the quotes taken from Scott Burnside (ESPN) and Kevin Allen (USAToday). The quotes are pretty similar to conversations I've been apart of at my level. However, does that mean its good for public consumption? Probably not. One member of Team USA's selection committee that has been sort of raked through the coals has been former Canucks' GM and Edina, Minnesota-native Brian Burke. Burke's blunt honesty was revealed at length even if his more negative comments were repeated. Some of the players passed over in the selection were more than a little disappointed, most notably Ottawa sniper Bobby Ryan and defenseman Keith Yandle who were a major a part of the debate. Ryan especially has come off feeling as though he was entitled to a roster spot but as you read the article it sounds like it was a coaching decision. Ultimately, the performance of the team will determine whether all of this controversy was warranted or not. Team USA has announced they'll never allow reporters access like that again. Sometimes the inside story can be ugly and having that kept out of the public eye is best for all parties involved.
When you return to the on-ice drama of the Minnesota Wild it has its own inertia just as the U.S. selection committee story has had. The inertia was slowed a bit with a victory over Buffalo, but that could get rolling again if the team stumbles against Washington tonight. Toss in some injuries and illnesses along with a few roster moves and story keeps moving along. So can the Wild build on their solid performance on Thursday or will the Capitals again put the team's recent misfortunes back into the spotlight?
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1st Period Thoughts: It was not a good period for the Wild as the Capitals outhustled and out worked Minnesota most of the period. The Wild seemed to be a half step too slow to get to loose pucks. The Capitals were taking their chances to fire shots on goal and at least early on Niklas Backstrom was ok and seeing pucks well. However you could sense it was just a matter of time before the Capitals possession was going to lead to goals in the back of the WIld net. They would light the lamp mid-way through the period on the power play as Dany Heatley would take a needless slashing penalty. The Capitals tested the Wild with a few quick shots from in close before working the puck back out to the point. Ultimately, a big slap shot by Alex Ovechkin would deflect off a few sticks before going right onto the tape of Marcus Johansson who fired it by Backstrom to make it 1-0. Just 17 seconds after that the Capitals would add to their lead as Mike Green would race up the ice, make a wicked move to drag it around Matt Cooke and then firing a wrist shot by Backstrom who was partially screened by Clayton Stoner. Mike Yeo could sense the game was on the verge of getting out of control so he called a timeout to talk things over and settle his team down. The effect of the pep talk was pretty modest as the team started to skate a little harder but shots remained tremendously elusive for Minnesota. Even when the Wild got a power play, Minnesota was unable to register a single shot on goal. The Wild's power play continues to baffle me in regards to its primary method of attack. The team will enter the zone moving about 15 feet inside the blueline before turning towards the boards and looking back towards the point for something to develop. By facing the boards, the Wild limit their options to passing the puck either closer to the blueline (which is just 15 feet away) or down to the corner. Either place is not a scoring area and time after time we see opponents jump on the Wild puck carriers shortly after they make this turn. Apart from the fact it puts the skater in a tough position to make a positive play, I also loathe it because it slows down the pace of play. How many times do we see where the Wild have favorable numbers on the rush only to stop and slow it down which allows the defense to get back into the play and that advantage and flow is lost. Minnesota was struggling getting pucks on goal; a great example was a no-look pass by Heatley found Pominville and he bombed a shot about 6 feet over the goal. The crowd was not appreciative of the Wild's effort as they were serenaded with boo's as they left the ice. I thought the Wild's best line was its 2nd "Youngblood" / "Kid" line of Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter. That was the only line that I felt could at least skate with the Capitals on equal terms and had the offensive creaitivity to earn the space to get shots on goal. The Wild were getting beat in just about every regard, even when they tried to 'fight back' it didn't go well for Minnesota. Troy Brouwer didn't like a hit he got from Nate Prosser and the two would drop the gloves and I think the Elk River-native is lucky he lost his balance because Brouwer was about to get crushed by the former Blackhawks winger.
2nd Period Thoughts: Minnesota started the period with its 'Kid Line' clearly looking for some energy and the youngsters did not disappoint. The Zucker, Granlund, Niederreiter line attacked with speed and their effort would be rewarded as Niederreiter lifted a shot from close range just inside the crossbar to make it 2-1. It was big early goal that seemed to ignite the rest of the team. Minnesota was now outhustling and outworking the Capitals. The Wild would get a little lucky as Steven Oleksy would trip up Kyle Brodziak deep in the Washington zone. As the play ended, Oleksy and Brodziak exchanged some words and a few shoves and both decided to drop the gloves but the officials would step in before they could start throwing punches much to the chagrin of the crowd who seemed hungry for a fight. Soon into the Wild power play, the Capitals would help the Wild some more when Karl Alzner cleared a puck up into the stands giving Minnesota a 5-on-3. Minnesota would not waste any time before lighting the lamp. After passing the puck back and forth between point men the puck would end up on the stick of Ryan Suter who wound up and blasted a shot by Brayden Holtby to make it 2-2. The Wild still had almost a minute and half of 5-on-4 power play time left at their disposal. About 30 seconds after the goal, Suter would add another one as he uncorked another slap shot that hit the shins of a Capitals defenseman and by Holtby and just like that it was 3-2 Wild. With the home crowd roaring the Wild played with plenty of jump and confidence. It would be a few minutes of the Wild carrying the play where the Capitals would tie the game on a flukey goal. A long range shot by Mike Green that went wide caromed off the glass and out front where it struck backstrom in the back of his left leg and snuck inside the post and then off his right leg and over the goal line to make it 3-3. It was the kind of lame goal that seemed indicative of the team's recent 6-game losing streak. Just total bad luck and a lack of focus at a crucial moment in the game. However Minnesota would try to rally back and Keith Ballard came inches from tying the game as he rang a shot off the pipe. The Wild kept applying pressure and Mikael Grabovski would send a puck up into the stands giving the Capitals another delay of game penalty. This would come back to bite the Capitals in a big way. The Wild would send out its kid line and the group of youngsters moved the puck well as Ballard sent a wrist shot on goal that was deflected by Jason Zucker and the shot hit off of Holtby and then had the inertia to float back towards the goal line where Zucker jammed it in to make it 4-3 Wild. It was an a terrific effort by Zucker and Minnesota would takes its one-goal lead into the 2nd intermission. No boo's from the home crowd, just cheers as the team headed down to the locker room. Shots were still tough to come by as the Wild were still outshot 8-10 in the period but Minnesota was being rewarded when they did. They need to continue to apply pressure on the Capitals and keep doing what they can to get pucks on goal as Holtby was struggling.
3rd Period Thoughts: Minnesota kept up its good effort in the 3rd period. Washington gave them a good scare early though as an Alexander Ovechkin shot would sort of catch Backstrom by surprise but he'd lean back and keep the puck from crossing the goal line. The hustle was there, the willingness to pay the physical price to make plays was there. Shots were still very tough to come by but when the Wild had its chances it was burying them. The Capitals were trying to use its plethora of skill to push for the game tying goal. The Wild would get victimized by a bit of a suspicious call as Ryan Suter was called for tripping just moments after Grabovski had tripped up Jason Zucker. The Wild went on the penalty kill without its best defenseman but Minnesota's penalty killers stepped up as did Niklas Backstrom as he shut the door on a few bang-bang type plays to the slot while the Wild's blueline swept pucks out of danger. Minnesota would get the big penalty kill and the Wild would catch the Capitals in a 2-on-1 as Clayton Stoner fed a pass over to Ryan Suter who had left the box and the defenseman sniped a shot high and over the stick side shoulder of Holtby to make it 5-3 Wild and become the first Wild defenseman to have ever record a hat trick. He was the last Wild player to register a hat trick at Xcel Energy Center since Chuck Kobasew did so back in late November of 2009 (I was at that game). As a a few hats made their way to the ice, the Wild were content to defend their lead through the closing minutes of the game. Minnesota would follow up Suter's goal with a strong forecheck that drew a tripping penalty to former Alaska-Anchorage star Jay Beagle. The Wild completely took their foot off the gas on the power play, as they made little effort to create an offensive pressure on the man advantage. The hustle was still there, winning races to the biscuit and then working it deep and forcing the Capitals to bring the puck up the full-length of the ice. The Capitals were pressing hard in the closing moments as Ovechkin rang a shot off the post but Backstrom again would manage to cover the biscuit and Minnesota would seal a 5-3 victory.
Niklas Backstrom was good enough, making 27 saves in the victory. While the 3rd goal, on the carom off the glass was pretty awful, Backstrom made some quality saves late in the game to help the Wild earn a much-needed win. I thought defensively the Wild did a pretty good job at tying up the Capitals from having much in the way of 2nd chance opportunities which gave Backstrom a chance to cover up the puck. The huge penalty killing effort in the 3rd with Suter was a game changer. I thought the Wild's defense did a good job at being physical along the boards and not allowing the Capitals to work their ways into the scoring areas without paying a price to do so.
Offensively the Wild made the most of their precious opportunities, scoring on 5 out of their 11 shots on goal for the whole game. Minnesota's injury woes up front got that much more dire as Mikko Koivu may be lost for a while after blocking a shot in the first period. Limping his way around the ice the Wild captain still managed to earn two assists. I really liked how the line of Niederreiter, Granlund and Zucker played tonight. Their spark helped bring about the comeback. I'd imagine if Koivu is out, that Granlund anchors the top line with Jason Pominville. Of course the big story was Ryan Suter's hat trick and while I would not expect tons of goals from Suter hopefully it helps encourage him to pull the trigger more often.
Big victory for the Wild against a decent Capitals team. Minnesota could have fallen apart after a lousy 1st period but the youngsters stepped up and got an early goal in the 2nd and they were able to rally back. The team earned 4 out a possible 8 points in this 4-game homestand. The team now has two big road games against Los Angeles and Phoenix respectively. Remember what I said about inertia? I think this club is moving forward once again.
~ The Wild roster tonight was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Charlie Coyle, Stephane Veilleux, Torrey Mitchell, Brett Bulmer, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Keith Ballard, Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner. Darcy Kuemper backed up Niklas Backstrom. Mike Rupp and Justin Fontaine were the healthy scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the game according to Wild.com were: 1st Star Ryan Suter, 2nd Star Mikko Koivu, 3rd Star Jason Zucker
~ Attendance was 19,022 at Xcel Energy Center.
Iowa Wild Report:
Recent Score: Iowa 3, Rockford 2 SO
The Iowa Wild clawed their way back to a .500 record after a 3-2 shootout victory in Rockford on Friday. The Wild struck first with a power play goal as Jonathon Blum found the twine behind the Ice Hogs' Mac Carruth to give Iowa a 1-0 lead going into the st intermission. The Ice Hogs would rally back with a goal in the 2nd as Joakim Nordstrom ripped a shot past fellow Swede Johan Gustafsson. Rockford would then take the lead with a power play of their own as former Nebraska-Omaha stud Alex Brodhurst lit the lamp to make it 2-1. Iowa would answer back less than a minute later as Tyler Graovac sniped a shot by Carruth to tie the game and send it to OT. Overtime was dominated by the Ice Hogs but Gustafsson was a wall so the game went to a shootout. The Wild would take advantage of their opportunity as Zack Phillips, Graovac and Carson McMillan scored in the shootout while Gustafsson stopped 3-out-of-4 to seal the victory. Gustafsson had 37 saves in the victory.
Wild Prospect Report:
C – Anthony Hamburg (RIT, Atlantic) ~ Hamburg continues to anchor the Tigers' 4th line. The former Omaha Lancer registered 2 shots on goal and was a +1 in their 2-1 loss to Connecticut on Friday. Hamburg, a junior has a goal and 4 PIM's in 14 games played this season.
RW – Kurtis Gabriel (Owen Sound, OHL) ~ The Newmarket, Ontario-native registered his first point in 2014 as he chipped a helper in the Attack's 3-2 shootout win over Erie on Friday night. Gabriel's 19th assist ties him for his career high in points with 28 to go along with 60 PIM's in 33 games played this season.
F – Avery Peterson (Grand Rapids, USHS) ~ The high school star continues to light it up in a major way for the Thunderhawks this season. Peterson had 4 goals and 2 assists in Grand Rapids' 6-1 win over Hopkins on Saturday afternoon. The 6'2" forward has 15 goals, 30 points in just 13 games played this season.
F – Louie Nanne (Sioux Falls, USHL) ~ The RPI commit had one of his better nights for the struggling Sioux Falls Stampede who fell 6-4 tonight to the Tri-City Storm. The former Edina standout had an assist along with 2 shots on goal and 2 PIM's in the loss. Nanne has 2 assists in 9 games played this season.
Minnesota High School Hockey Rankings: As of December 31st, 2013
3. East Grand Forks
5. Duluth Marshall
6. Mankato West
7. St. Cloud Cathedral
10. Thief River Falls
6. Benilde-St. Margaret's
7. Eden Prairie
8. Elk River / Zimmerman
9. Duluth East
10. Lakeville North